Though I have visited countless consignment stores in Manhattan, there are none quite like Round About Designer Clothing. "I love clothes," owner Laurie Perren stated simply and honestly. It quickly became apparent that it is this passion and an intense attention to detail that has made Laurie's business a success in both Connecticut and New York. As she told me her story, I explored the store and could see her eye for high quality fashion well represented.
Directly after graduating from college, Laurie had an office job in a big corporation. "I had a cubicle and I couldn't wait to get out of it and go shopping," she said with a laugh. She soon left to work at Loehmann's, the well-respected New York discount department store. "I owe it all to Loehmann's," Laurie told me, explaining that she runs her store in a way that is very similar to the way Loehmann's Back Room used to function.
Laurie always wanted to have her own business and knew that it would have to be a discount store. That did not mean, however, that she would sacrifice quality. When opening in 1989 in Westport, Connecticut - with items belonging to herself, her mother, and her friends - customers could not believe that Laurie went through the trouble of actually ironing each piece of clothing. Despite their predictions that the habit would not last long, Laurie grinned and said, "Twenty-five years later, I'm still ironing the clothes!"
Since many of her Connecticut customers had apartments on the Upper East Side, Laurie decided to open a Manhattan store in 2008. She was well aware that she had to be on her "A-game," as the retail environment in New York was certainly a high risk. Along with her 72nd Street location, Laurie also opened on Madison, where she attracted more tourists, but she prefers the side street because of the neighborhood feel. "I love the community."
Not everything at the shop is second hand. Laurie accepts inventory from boutiques that have pieces of clothing that did not sell during their season. Laurie mentioned that she has connections all over the world, especially in LA where she has a second home. This means that there is a variety of styles represented in her store. "You can find something that other women don't have," she explained. Laurie lit up when I inquired about her favorite consignment pieces. She told me that she often gets some really shocking things, including a Hermes Birkin bag with custom hardware. As Laurie spoke about the bag, she wondered how anyone would give up such a prized possession.
No matter where the clothing comes from, Laurie describes herself as "fanatical to the point of crazy" about the quality. She turned to one of her team and said, "Geraldine - Aren't I nutso about the condition of the items?" Geraldine nodded, wide eyed, and informed me that the staff lovingly refers to her as "Eagle Eyes." Geraldine related stories of how Laurie has pointed out loose threads to customers, who have looked at her in grateful astonishment for noticing such small details. "This is the most meticulous consignment store you'll ever visit," Laurie declared.
Delle Celle features many respected brands of Italian-fabricated women's clothing, as well as its own line of garments. The pieces are full of color and pattern, with an abundance of styles - there are very few repeats. Walking in, one is greeted by a friendly salesperson, happy to answer any questions. Face-to-face shopping is a vital component of this business, void of an online site. And the integrity and authenticity of the pieces certainly warrants this tactile form of transaction.
Smiling, a lovely woman said "I just saw your window, and had to come in." She was intrigued by the beautiful hat display at Susan van der Linde's current location on 67th Street. She walked around, flirting with a few different styles before finding her way out, promising to return. "It is fantastic to be on the ground level," Susan said delightedly. She went on to tell me that she worked as a seamstress on the second floor in the Lombardy Hotel and formally opened her label on the fourth floor of a building on 57th Street in 1995. Relocated to 67th in 2014, her small boutique is certainly a standout with its well-crafted styles and warm personal service.The interior of the shop boasts a clean, museum-like light system, a neutral backdrop, and attractive shelving, allowing the focus to be on the colorful and textured fashions. From her wide-brimmed hat made of horsehair and straw, with a luscious navy silk bow, to her round-crowned chapeau of organically draped brown sinamay, each of Susan's creations is innovative with stylish whim. Though known for hats, she also sells a classic loafer, which comes in many colors, and is fabricated in Italy with a comfortable vibram sole. In 2012, bags and clothes were added to the collection. I could not help but run my fingers over a vibrant orange handbag made of water buffalo leather.Sewing clothing since the age of ten and receiving formal training at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), Susan first became "infected with the passion of making hats" when she apprenticed under the esteemed Milliner Don Marshall in Paris. "He taught me that hats have to look like human hands never touched them," Susan explained. "No stitches should show. And to never underestimate what I learn from a client, to always adapt." When the beehive style became popular during the 1960s and hat wearing phased out, Don Marshall was one to make intricate fascinators and veiled caplets, adjusting to his clientele.When Susan meets a client, she is always looking for clues. In contrast to autopilot salesmen, who fit customers to their hats, Susan fits her hats to her customers, a luxury achieved by being a small business with the designer on premise, sewing away downstairs. "If someone likes a style they see here, but she wants it in acid green, I can do that." A person going on a safari will need a wrap-around, so the hat does not blow off. "I love seeing my client's lifestyle," Susan clarified when discussing her trunk shows, "it tells me what she needs." And Susan most certainly complies.
When I visited Tip Top Shoes in the summer of 2015, the store was celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary. Danny Wasserman proudly showed me the most recent edition of Footwear News, which was essentially dedicated to Tip Top. There were messages from countless sponsors in the shoe world, congratulating the Wasserman family for their longevity. Sitting down with Danny and his children, Lester and Margot, who are in charge of West NYC and Tip Top Kids respectively was an absolute pleasure.Having grown up just a block away, Lester and Margot were immersed in the business even as toddlers. In high school, both began working at the store with their dad. Lester was immediately drawn into the world of shoes, learning as much as he could with the ultimate goal of opening his own sneaker shop, West NYC, a few doors down. Lester explained to me that Tip Top already sold sporty designer men's shoes, but that he expanded this concept into a trendier store in 2007. Margot, on the other hand, knew that she wanted to work in retail, but began her career with Ralph Lauren. She stayed there through the dot-com revolution and then returned to work for her father.Included in the copy of Footwear News was a picture of how the store looked decades ago. Display cases took up the first few feet on either side of the door. Danny's grandfather originally opened the store after coming to the United States from Israel. He chose to buy the little shoe shop, which had been uptown in Riverdale, from an elderly German couple. The family then moved the store to 72nd Street. "Things were very different," Danny explained to me. "People were less affluent, there were fewer options, and every shoe in the store was in the window." He told me that at one point there were two black shoes and two brown shoes for men, and that was what customers had to choose from. Expanding on the neighborhood's history, Danny said that the street was frequented by pimps. "We had white boots with fur at the time that we couldn't keep in stock."Later, the store was expanded both forward (eliminating the window displays) and back. Today, Tip Top continues to have a loyal following, many from the next generation of shoppers. Having walked so many streets in Manhattan, Tip Top has been a wonderful reminder to me that the old world concept of customer service, with a warm staff who have been working with the Wassermans for years, still exists. This thinking was solidified when I asked the family why they never considered expanding to another location. The response from Danny simply stated that they never wanted to spread themselves too thin. "The reason for our success is because we're all here."It was really touching to see how strong the glue is that holds the Wasserman family together. I was not surprised when I learned that Lester, Margot and their parents live in the same building, a block over on 72nd Street - but on different floors. Yes, Tip Top has been an incredible success story in the world of mom and pop stores, but not everyone has had the great fortune of such a beautiful family relationship. When I expressed this sentiment to Danny, he replied, "Everyone says how fortunate I am to have my kids, and they're right." He then went on to say with a warm smile, "I mean, my son chooses to work with me six days a week." Lester shook his head in agreement and responded, "And I am lucky to have the best possible teacher to educate me."
“We are beer nerds, not beer snobs.” That is how Bo Bogle, the general manager of Gebhard’s Beer Culture, and Peter Malfatti, its beverage director, would describe the wood-furnished, cozy bar and restaurant that they opened in the summer of 2016, featuring various local and foreign artisanal beers on tap. The people behind Gebhard’s Beer Culture - the sister restaurant to Beer Culture on 45th Street - are as enthusiastic about beer as they are about educating customers.Because many of the beers that they offer are unknown to the general public, Gebhard’s will always work to find the draught that best suits each customer’s palate. If one feels like tasting several selections, the beer flight - a tray of four small glasses - is a good choice. Along with the continuously changing list of beers, the kitchen offers an ample menu of munchies, many from Belgium, as this is where owner Matt Gebhard spent time as a foreign exchange student.I was enchanted to discover how playful the space is: Upstairs, there is a games room, complete with a dartboard, shuffleboard, Hacky Sacks, and BulziBucket. The decorations throughout the bar and restaurant are eclectic, with various beer signs and novelty items covering the walls. At the front, I discovered a nook full of records, as well as a well-loved bicycle helmet. Bo and Ryan, the bartenders on duty, matched the vibe of the restaurant with their jovial nature as they poured beers for the Manhattan Sideways team. They set out glasses of citrusy TarTan Ale, a Central Waters Brewing Co beer, and a fresh, hoppy Southern Tier 2x Tangier. The two men knew exactly what to select for a hot day in the city and enjoyed tag-teaming descriptions of each beer and brand.Bo explained to us that the motivation behind Gebhard's Beer Culture is essentially a “passion for the local beer market.” With the recent proliferation of local breweries around the city and in the rest of the country, Bo feels that “individuals are making great beers and that should be acknowledged.” However, he believes it is not enough to simply have them on tap, but rather, the bartenders should teach customers about the local beer scene. Beer Culture’s objective is as much educational as it is to host many good nights with friends. When asked about the one thing that he would like customers to know about their new bar, Bo grinned and said: “the second beer always tastes better than the first.”
With its prime 72nd Street location, I have passed by Malachy's Donegal Inn almost daily, but had never stepped inside. I was always waiting for the day when I would be working on this street, so that I could go in with the Manhattan Sideways team and have a good time. And that is exactly what happened. "Looks can be deceiving, believe me," owner Bill Raftery immediately said when we popped in during the lunch hour in the middle of the week. He continued to speak lovingly and confidently of his pub, which has been in business since 1989. "This bar has the best pub food of any like it in the area," Bill stated. Looking around, we were pleased to find the old wooden bar packed from end to end. According to Bill, most of his lunch customers are crew guys from local theaters like The Beacon and Lincoln Center, and "they are loyal." Engaging in conversation with more than a dozen men and women, we learned a lot about Bill, and the warm environment that he has built.As Bill continued to serve people from behind the bar, he spoke of how much the neighborhood has changed since he purchased Malachy's. On Saint Patrick's Day, the area used to be blanketed in green bar-goers. "You could not move in this neighborhood the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. There's nothing like seeing them blow up those balloons." Hikes in parking and travel costs have drastically reduced business on both of those days, he lamented. Still, he brightened up when pointing to the crowded bar, and said how his regulars are certainly devoted customers. Quite busy, he told us to stop by for a drink sometime soon, and headed into the kitchen.